‘how to make better decisions’


The BBC are showing a documentary (Horizon) this evening (12 Feb 08)  about making better decisions. It’s written up on their website.

Basically it’s a presentation of Geek Logic by Garth Sundem, a book about equations/models that can be used to make better decisions in daily life, such as should you go to the gym, or should you apologise about something. Mathematical modelling for those everyday occasions.  Its a nice point, if a bit tongue in cheek.

The question I have is how effective are these models? The more I look at the examples on BBC and play with the numbers the more I see the holes in the equations – particularly how sensitive they are to one variable over another. And the very simple decision guide (if B>1 then buy it) isn’t very useful at all.

The idea is nice but the implementation here is trivial.


I’ve been thinking about this a bit more and the trouble I’m having isn’t with the equations – which pass basic mathematical modelling tests but I’m still not confident enough in them, but the data that passes as parameters for them. For a bit of fun, its great. To use a similar process to actually automate decision making requires much better control of the parameter values and outcome bands. These data need to be trusted on the way in in order to make sense on the way out. Subjectiveness in data entry is a killer for automating decisions – someone is making a decision on the value of most parameters. This needs to be objective!

I’m looking forward to watching the TV show this evening (or maybe on iPlayer) to see if it is a ‘just a bit of fun’ sell or they are using it as a real technique.


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